When you see the word “free” in an online advert, what does it suggest to you?

If you accept the dictionary definition of the word then it means “requiring no money to be paid”. At least I thought that was what it meant.

But have you noticed how many things are advertised as “free” – actually, they are advertised as “FREE”, usually bold, in red, and with three exclamation marks – when, in reality, they’re not free.

Many of these free gifts are from companies trying to shift hi-tech gizmos.

For example, “Free SIM card on our Pay Monthly Deals”. Sorry, how does that work? It’s free – if you pay monthly. Right.

Or how about “Cheap web hosting, only 85p per month with free domain name.” Well, I’ll need company hosting if I have a domain name – free or not – and that’s going to cost me. Which means it’s not free.

Another I saw recently, for an online audio library, stated: “The library will be free with a RinkyDinky Prime membership, which costs £49.99 a year.”

Eh? Free – with a membership that costs a fair amount each year.

This convoluted attempt to get the word “free” into the advertising copy leads to such lines as “Free Samboosa Universe Laptop only £21 per month at…” How can you have the word “free” and the phrase “Only £21 per month” in the same headline?

The only possible answer, of course, is that what they are actually saying is “Hello, Stupid. We’re telling you this is free, but we’re going to take money out of your bank account on a regular basis.”

Would you buy a product from a company that comes up with a truthful advertising headline like that? And yet we do.

Of course, it’s nothing new. Having ordered some flyers from a printer, I tried to find out how much it would cost.

He proudly told me “The more you order, the cheaper it gets.”

Heard that line before? Well, try this: I answered “That’s great. So, if they get cheaper the more I order, how many do I have to order before they’re free?”

There’s no answer to that. Same as there’s no answer to why companies should advertise something as “free” then ask for you bank account details.

Drew McAdam


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